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  • Rosie Alexander

Six Tips when Working from Home with a Family during Lockdown

Did you know that it was during lockdown from Bubonic Plague in 1665 that Isaac Newton developed Calculus and the Theory of Gravity? Well, well done him *clapping emojis*. But before we get too hung up on the extent of our lesser achievements during a pandemic, take heart — Newton had a couple of things in his favour: he was a freaky genius and he didn’t have kids!

For many of us, balancing working from home with the all-consuming business of caring for — let alone home-schooling — young children is achievement enough. Adults who suddenly find themselves at sea in these choppy waters and see the life rafts of support — nurseries, schools, grandparents — bobbing out of reach, must take comfort in the fact that remoulding life into one in which each family member can achieve their obligations is difficult, but it’s doable too.

The starting premise is to cut yourself some slack. Hooray, bras loosened, jogging pants on! Well, yes, that too, but what I mean really is that aiming to keep things running as they did pre-Covid19 is a fast track to frustration. On some days, things that matter less are going to slide and it’s important to make a conscious decision early on that you’re not going to be anxious when they do.

Let’s face it, we’re in unchartered territory, but experts on the pressures of working from home alongside children seem in one thought — that four words will make life run smoother: planning; structure; creativity; flexibility. With these in mind, here are my six tips for making the situation work…

1. Make a family plan

Repeatedly talk about what everyone in the family needs, then re-sort your day so there are work and school schedules and display them so everyone can see them. Try to stick to regular times for breakfast, lunch and dinner, as well as exercise, work breaks and times where the family gets together for fun. If both parents are working, divide the day into blocks which free up one parent from the children to facilitate work. Remember short bursts of uninterrupted work are more productive than a prolonged period when you’re multitasking. This is the ideal scenario of course — if the day all goes to pot, then be flexible enough the next to substitute in elements you didn’t manage the day before.

2. Designate a work area

Even if it’s not possible to have a separate room to work in and space is short or open plan, a work area for yourself and a child can still be established. A desk or sofa turned at right angles to a wall can divide a room into different zones. A section of the room can be painted a different colour — maybe under a shelf above a child’s desk — so a clear, separate workspace is created. If you’re working at the kitchen table, at the end of the day, pack your work paraphernalia into a special box and dress the table differently — a plant, tablecloth — to make the distinction. Sometimes even making a no-go area on the floor with masking tape will work. Children will readily make a homemade Stop sign which can be hung on a doorknob, wall or laptop, so everyone knows not to interrupt when someone’s working. Make sure the sign’s taken down regularly, so children understand they can talk to you often — that way they’ll learn to respect the sign.

3. Have a discussion about sharing jobs around the house

Research shows that women still take on more than their fair share of house tasks and often the bulk of childcare, so a list which distributes jobs around the family should be made. Even tiny tots can make sure they aim to dress, clean teeth, maybe sit with a book for 15 mins.

4. Make provisions for young children to entertain themselves more than usual.

After all, a bored child will often be sparked into imaginative play: perhaps leave around non-toy toyboxes, using objects from around the house; provide a big bowl of socks and ask that they’re put into pairs; leave Play Doh out on a coffee table. Remember, too, that older siblings, even those just a couple of years older, always like the opportunity to be teachers and will keep younger children entertained (one eye from you recommended). And during these tricky times, there’s no guilt to be had in offering your child a bit of quality screen time if it means you’re able to work as a result: try TedEd for example, which offers small educational talks for children; and Reading Eggs, an online, highly engaging reading programme where children work through fun, guided lessons themselves, learning to read as they go.

5. Communicate clearly upfront with your boss.

Remember it’s not a personal situation but a community issue, so it’s important to try to sound positive. State your situation, explain how you are going to manage, how committed you are and if applicable, say how much you appreciate your boss’s support. That way, a boss is more likely to be receptive to your situation.

6. Focus on what you are doing with your children and for work, rather than on what you’re not doing.

Studies show that happiness increases productivity, so focus on your own happiness by making the most of the extra time you’re getting with your children: have fun together in an exercise class, relish the extra meals, chats together and all those extra hugs!

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